Birth Control
January 21, 2020

Dental Dams: What Are They And Why Should I Use Them?

Heard of dental dams but not sure what they are, or how to use them? Consider this your dental dam 101!
Written by
Jamie LeClaire
Published on
January 21, 2020
Updated on
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Dental dams are an important part of someone’s safer sex toolkit. They are a barrier method intended for protection against many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can be transmitted during oral sex on either a vulva or an anus. 

Dams are a thin, rectangular-shaped sheet of usually latex or polyurethane material. They can come in an assortment of colors, and sometimes flavors. Depending on the brand, a dental dam may or may not come lubricated on one or both sides.


What do dental dams protect against?

There are several STIs that can be transmitted via oral-genital and oral-anal sex, and dental dams, with proper use, can significantly reduce your chances of contracting several of them. These include:

  • Chlamydia 
  • Gonorrhea 
  • Syphilis 
  • HIV

Robin Watkins, CNM, WHNP-BC, director of health care for Power to Decide tells that dental dams may not protect against other STIs such as herpes, pubic lice, and HPV, as the dental dam will not cover lesions that may be existing outside of the general anus or vulvar area like the inner thighs.  

How do I use a dental dam?

Dental dams usually come folded in a square. After taking it out of the package, unfold the square, and place it over the genital area (vulva or anus) that you wish to perform oral sex on. You may need to hold the sides down so it stays in place. Once the dental dam is firmly in place, feel free to lick away! You should use the dental dam during the entire time you are performing oral. 

Dental Dam How To

Some things to keep in mind when using a dental dam:

  • They may come lubed, but you’ll want more! Lube is a sex staple for safety and for pleasure! Use a water-based lube with your dental dam. You might want to have some fun with flavored lubes, too, but remember to skin-test them for any potential sensitivities on a small patch of non-genital skin prior to use.
  • Keep dental dams, like condoms, stored in a cool and dry place. Avoid friction and heat.
  • Check the expiration date. Dental dams don’t last forever, so you’ll want to be sure you’re using one that’s still effective.
  • Do not use spermicide with dental dams. This is unnecessary and just causes irritation.

When should I use a new dental dam?

You’ll want to use a new dam before each oral sex session, even with the same person. You should also change the dental dam if you are moving from performing oral on the anus to performing oral on the vulva. You also should change the dam when you change the partner who is receiving oral.

If the dam rips, becomes crinkled or somehow jumbled up and you’re not sure which side was on your mouth and which side was on the genitals, or if the dam was compromised in any other way, it’s safest to throw it out and grab a new one.

I heard you can make a homemade dental dam from an internal or external condom? Is that true?


Dental dams aren’t that easy to come by. While they may sometimes be available for free at health centers or clinics, they often aren’t available at all. You can try to find them for purchase at drugstores, but they don’t all carry them. You can make your own dental dam, however, with an internal, or external condom and a few snippety-snips.

Here’s how to make a dental dam from an external condom: 

  1. Remove the condom from the package and unroll it. 
  1. Hold the condom from the tip and snip horizontally across it, towards the tip.
  1. Snip horizontally across the bottom ridge of the condom.
  1. Cut vertically down the condom, just one layer, in order to open up the condom, creating a flat, dam-like, piece of condom material.

You can make a dental dam from an internal condom the same way. Just be sure to remove the plastic bendy ring that comes inside the internal condom. 


Where can I get dental dams?

As mentioned, you can purchase dental dams from some drugstores, such as Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS. Sometimes, Planned Parenthood locations or other local sexual health clinics have them available for free. If you are in college, your school’s health clinic may also have them or be able to get them. 

Popular dam brands such as Glyde and Trust have an assortment of scents and flavors that can be purchased from online retailers such as Amazon. For a non-latex alternative, or a cheaper, more accessible option, use non-latex condoms to turn into dental dams, as they are more readily available. 

Before you go!

Remember, oral sex without protection puts you at risk for several sexually transmitted infections. If you plan on having oral-anal or oral-vulvar sex, it’s important to have dental dams in your sexual health toolbox and to know how to make a dental dam. As always, you should be discussing your STI status with a partner, and intentionally decide how you want to proceed with protection and barrier methods before engaging in any sexual activity.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Jamie J. LeClaire (they/them) is a sexuality educator, freelance writer, and consultant. Their work focuses on the intersections of pleasure-positive sexual health, queer & transgender/gender-nonconforming identity, body politics, and social justice. You can find more of their work at their website, and follow them on Instagram & Twitter.

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